Friday, April 22, 2011

Sam Houston.

City father and inventor of the astrodome.

What's the catch?

Ambest Truckstop, Big Cabin, Oklahoma.


____Day 1: My tax rebate for 2010 arrives in the post. It’s like getting all your night-out money for one year in a lump sum. To celebrate, I take my accountant’s receptionist out to lunch; an annual meal with the sweet young Mexican cutie that is turning into a tradition. Then into work to find a suitable trailer for a load of lumber; going from Kenora in Ontario to Carrollton, Texas. Only step-decks are available; so I take one over to the sawmill, ready for loading in the morning.

 ____Day 2: With some mathematical calculations, the 32 foot lengths of timber are loaded to legal axle weights at the first time of asking. Fourteen hundred miles to do in three days; so over the border at Pembina and down to the Dakota’s border. Kellie Pickler is the main attraction at the Dakota Magic Casino. Tickets are $40 each and no, I haven’t heard of her either so I make do with the four-piece covers band in the lounge bar.
____Day 3: The wet snow of Friday evening is Saturday morning’s frozen crusty ice rink. Interstate 29’s slow lane is tricky; the fast lane is deadly. But by Sioux Falls, three hours later, temperatures are positive and it’s dry roads for the rest of the day. Finishing at the Farris Truckstop just north of Kansas City.
____Day 4: With the State of Oklahoma on the agenda, The prospect of shelling out for their toll roads looms large. I don’t want to take the side-roads, that takes too long; so does going all the way round. I have a plan: Highway 71 from Kansas City to Joplin, then $8.50 of the Will Rogers Turnpike towards Tulsa, followed by the four-lane Highway 69 down to the Texas border. A storm blew through the southern states; killing over 40 people. On Thursday, a tornado touched down in the small town of Tuskla on Highway 69. The place has been devastated; buildings ripped apart and pieces scattered everywhere, an eighteen-wheeler laid on it’s side, the tops of trees torn away and a trailer park trashed. Only the other week, I was thinking it would be neat if I could get a photograph of a funnel cloud; but after seeing what the force of a tornado can do, I don’t care if I never get close to one.

 ____Day 5: It’s a short run from Colbert, on the Oklahoma-Texas border, down to the north Dallas suburb of Carrollton. The efficient Weyerhauser Group lumber yards always get you unloaded in half an hour if you wear all your personnel protection equipment and arrive at your appointment time. Soon I’m on my way to Houston to collect steel from the docks; calling in at the middle of Midlothian for some hardwood dunnage. During the balmy evening at the Flying’J truckstop, I am overwhelmed with a feeling of trepidation. The words: “docks” and “steel” stir up ghosts from loads past. Long gone names: Victoria Deep Wharf, East India Dock, British Steel Ebbw Vale, British Steel Velindre. Memories from over thirty years ago; the many hours spent waiting and cursing the idleness of my union brothers. Would those fork-lift drivers be working today if they had not been such lazy bastards? I know I’m still working.
____Day 6: My fears are confirmed by the large, early-morning, multi-racial scrum at the heavily fortified check-in window. A sign prohibits the carrying of concealed handguns. BFS C617 driver, Roger Coffin is there too; a problem shared is a problem halved. Steel comes from Korea by ship and is laid out on the dockside in an area the size of Belgium. I have five bundles to collect from three locations; South-west Yard, Wire Yard and “Q” Yard. In the three hours that it takes for the fork-lift to come to me, I have walked round and found all my bundles and am the last truck to be loaded before lunch-break. Roger is still empty, but cheerfully comes over and helps with my tarping in the 35 degree heat. As payment, I leave my pipe stakes with him; much needed when trundling around the site with half a load of unstrapped steel. I reach Dallas in the rush-hour and in a thunderstorm; pushing on back into Oklahoma for the night.
____Day 7: Often, I am asked, “ What is the most important item to carry when driving Long-Haul?”

“ A pocket full of money.”

Just lately it seems as if I am paying to go to work. Apart from the usual stuff like tolls, faxes and scale tickets; I’ve been forking out a lot for dunnage and polythene sheeting. Luckily I avoided the $100 fee at Houston docks, which is charged to non-union drivers who are loaded direct from the ship. The load is going to Winnipeg, so I retrace my southbound route; north to Sioux City by the end of the day.
____Day 8: Enough driving hours to get home, even with the Red River trying it’s hardest to become the Red Sea. Flooding closes the Interstate 29 with a detour via Grafton. Then back in Canada; Highway 75 is closed at Morris with a detour via Winkler which adds another 200 km onto the long day. It`s Easter, so back to Steinbach for three days off.
____Overall Distance: 5660 km.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


____Day 1: Away from Leduc, Alberta, bright and early; taking Highway 14 through Wainwright to meet up with the Yellowhead Trail at Battleford, Saskatchewan. Aiming to put in two long days and have the lumber delivered in Menomonie, Wisconsin, on the morning of the third. Cutting down to Brandon for the night; cutting the 1400 mile trip neatly in two.
____Day 2: Across the border at Pembina, North Dakota, with warnings of flooded roads to the south. The Red River of the North making it's annual attempt to disrupt everything and everybody within 20 miles of it's banks. Interstate 29 is closed 20 miles north of Fargo, detour 20 miles west, 20 miles south, 20 miles east. This is where the grid system of roads works well; but state troopers are parked in every village along the route to make sure no-one can make up for lost time. But I still reach the Kwik-Trip truckstop at Menomonie within my hours and within  a couple of hundred yards of the customer.

 ____Day 3: Lumber delivered before breakfast; then reload details for some steel going back to Winnipeg from Roseville, near St. Paul. But when I get there, the load has already gone. Given to a driver who just rolled up and asked for a load to Winnipeg. The staff at the shipper said that they knew the guy and that his company regularly did the work; but he had no pick-up reference number and no instructions to do the load. He will probably deliver the load to the right place; so the steel hasn't been stolen. But the work has! I was left sitting around for hours while it was all sorted out. Eventually another load was made up for the same customer; but I was last to load. After polythene wrapping and tarping the steel; I made it back to Thief River Falls, taking Highway 59 north through Detroit Lakes as the Interstate 29 was still flooded.
____Day 4: The customer for my steel said they could not accomodate, straight away, the stuff I had loaded so the trailer went back to Steinbach. The truck was booked in for a service; I went home hoping that a short haul truck would do the drop; hoping the tarp job would keep the steel dry and hoping I would get all my equipment back that I had left on the trailer.
____Overall Distance:- 3092 km.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Truck On The Tracks.

But would they let you drive it thro' the Channel Tunnel?

Stuck-Up Truck


____Day 1: A lethargic start to the 1000 mile run down to Arkansas. Late getting up, then late because of all the gossiping with other drivers. Crossing the border at midday, I reach the Sisseton scale in South Dakota and feel really tired. At Watertown, I've had enough; I'm on the bunk at six o'clock in the evening. There for 13 hours.
____Day 2: A good breakfast at Stone's Truckstop; watching the Weather Channel giving out tornado warnings. Southbound on Interstate 29, I am passed by two storm chasers; the wind does get up to gale force but all I see in the sky are geese heading north. Every mile that Interstate 29 has to offer, Pembina to Kansas City, then US Highway 71 for a night at the Joplin Flying 'J.
____Day 3: An hours drive in the morning to Springdale, Arkansas. A small builders merchants with a handy restaurant next door for an after-unloading coffee. The reload is from Midlothian, Texas, steel going to Alberta with a note that I have to supply my own dunnage. So it's back round to the builders merchant to buy some lumber; exactly the same as I just delivered. Then more Highway 71, south to Texarkana with the wooded hillsides of Arkansas becoming green with a southern spring's new leaves. Interstate 30 to Dallas before parking at my destination's city-centre Pilot Truckstop, just before dark.

 ____Day 4: I wake up in the heart of Midlothian, a stones throw from the steelworks. Where they reject my softwood dunnage and make me go and buy some hardwood 4x4 lengths from a local haulier. You can't argue, if you want to get loaded. Loaded, tarped and away, I still have enough time for 1000 km in the day. Taking the useful diagonal Highway 287  over to Childress before turning north on Highway 83. Out of Texas, across Oklahoma okay and up to Oakley, Kansas, for a night at my all time favorite truckstop; Mittens. The only truckstop in the industry where the showers have the Wow factor.

 ____Day 4: I wake up in the heart of Midlothian, a stones throw from the steelworks. Where they reject my softwood dunnage and make me go and buy some hardwood 4x4 lengths from a local haulier. You can't argue, if you want to get loaded. Loaded, tarped and away, I still have enough time for 1000 km in the day. Taking the useful diagonal Highway 287  over to Childress before turning north on Highway 83. Out of Texas, across Oklahoma okay and up to Oakley, Kansas, for a night at my all time favorite truckstop; Mittens. The only truckstop in the industry where the showers have the Wow factor.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Truck On A Stick : Lick That.


____Day 1: It’s 4 days and 2 hours since I got back and told the workshop about a wiring fault on the trailer. When they finally get round to doing the repair; it takes less than 30 minutes! I get paid by the mile and nothing for waiting about at home: enough toys come out of the pram to let every one know how unhappy I am. Sunday, I came in and went back home; Monday, I finish just before midnight at Sauk Centre.

____Day 2: Arriving, early afternoon, at Menards’ Eau Claire distribution centre has the advantage that I miss the early morning rush and I’m unloaded without any waiting. The reload is steel from near Chicago, so I head down to the Portage Petro for the night. Where a respectable middle-aged woman, in the parking lot, asks where I’m heading. Our paths cross again in the restaurant when she asks for money to buy food. She speaks of being stranded and that she needs to get back to Florida. The manageress tells her to leave before I get the full story. I conclude she fell for the old “Honey check the brake lights” routine; handbag out the window and he’s going, going, gone. I do have that one in my armoury but have never had to use it.

____Day 3: At Woodstock, Illinois, I have instructions to “poly-wrap” the steel, to keep it dry. The shipper has none so I must supply my own. Luckily, there is a Fleet Farm Store within walking distance so I’m back with $8.76 worth of polythene sheets without losing my place in the line. But the stuff is thin and fragile; I could buy a couple of cans of Harmony Invisible-hold Hair Spray; it works well as a short-term measure in keeping rust away from bare metal. But I do have a couple of good tarps and there’s not a cloud in the sky. Still fine and dry at Hasty, Minnesota.

____Day 4: The load doesn't get rained on; but only because it snows. Away from Hasty as soon as possible, I push straight through to Winnipeg by the early afternoon. The steel gets signed for: clean and dry, which is a relief, as blowing snow can sometimes get to places that rain water cannot. A reload was sorted out earlier in the day and I have just enough time to get the lumber loaded. Home to Steinbach before dark.
  ____Overall Distance: 2654 km.